Katarina Getting Her Life Back
Some of you will recognize the tall blonde woman in the pictures as the teacher who helped and inspired you. Others will see their loyal friend or distinguished colleague. It was always a pleasure to encounter Katarina because of her warm smile, lively personality and elegant appearance. Beyond first greeting, her intelligence and warm heart made it a pleasure to know her. She is a caring, devoted friend.
One friend expressed it this way: "Some of you may know Katarina as a Professor of Design Theory and History. Or you may know her as I do - an amazing, passionate, spirited, creative, motivated person and good friend. Lover of sailing, rollerblading, skiing, Tango, Opera and one avid Traveler."
Katarina was noted early as having a gift for drawing, One person compared her drawings to Egon Schiele's. For a career, however, she wanted an intellectual challenge. Taking this path led her to become one of our preeminent Design Historians. She has lived in four countries beside her native Austria and speaks five languages. This broad cultural experience gives her insights into the relation between designs and society/culture that escape others.
Early in the pursuit of her interest in design history she was hired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. There she curated an important design history exhibition, the first ever offered by the Centre. Official Japanese visitors were so impressed with the exhibition that they offered her a five year fellowship in Japan toward a degree. She accepted this offer and went on to gain her Ph.D. in Design History from the Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music. Katarina then moved to New York and joined the faculty of Pratt Institute where she has taught Design History for 15 years. This last summer, ironically just before her surgery for a brain tumor this summer, she was promoted to full Professor. Katarina is widely recognized as one of the best teachers at Pratt in any department. She has inspired hundreds of design and design history students. [Take a look at some of the notes written by her former students who have donated and you will see something of the impact she had on people's lives.]
In a tragedy that goes beyond words this brilliant, lively, cheerful, warm-hearted woman suffered a brainstem stroke in July in the course of brain surgery to remove a tumor. This event left her completely paralyzed. Her mind and sensations remained completely intact, but she could not breathe, eat, talk or move any part of her body except her left eye. This condition is known as "locked-in syndrome". Thank God people around her were able to keep her alive and recognize that she was still there, still mentally intact.
Now after difficult months of recuperation and therapy she is able to breathe on her own and has full use of her eyes and many head muscles. She can move a finger and a toe a bit and is working hard to bring the rest of her body back. She uses a letterboard with eye signals to communicate now, but is determined to come back and regain her life, to talk, to walk, to live. But Katarina has a long way to go and needs our help.
Her immediate need is for a special computer that can be controlled by eye movements ($7,000). With this she could fairly quickly rejoin the world and send emails. Soon she will also need a motorized wheelchair that will help her stand up ($12,000) and a (used) van to transport her and the chair ($40,000) as no one in her family has such a vehicle.
She also needs your thoughts and prayers.
If you leave a little note with your contribution I'll make sure she sees it -- your words will mean a lot.
UPDATE May 2016
Sufficient money has already been contributed to get Katarina a battery-operated wheelchair with a special collar-like sensor. She has now regained enough head movement to use this collar to control the motorized wheelchair obtained with your donations. I've posted a video of her in the wheelchair taken a few weeks ago. At this writing her head movements are even better. Thank you!
In addition, because of your help Katarina will get back her access to the online world. The surgery left a problem with her right eye muscles. She can see out of the eye but can't control its movements perfectly enough to use the standard eye-controlled computer interface. But thanks to you she was able to get not just the computer but also get a custom interface in which the camera just tracks her left eye! The associated new software is also quite impressive. I think she will be able to communicate with us by email before too long. Thank you so much.
So, because of your kind donations, the first two goals of the campaign have already been reached. It's a wonderful development and has made such a difference in her life and prospects for the future.
Katarina still hasn't been able to get the transport van we hoped for as the third goal. It would make a big difference in her ability to get out. The family live outside of Vienna where she stays. They work hard to arrange outings for her, but without a van parked where she lives it's not so easy and just doesn't happen that often. I hope we can help her get one.
Once again, for your help -- bravo!
"I had the honor of being nominated and awarded as 'fighter of the year' by the magazine 'Die Steirerin'! Sophie [Katarina’s younger sister] had written to them, and, apparently they were impressed enough to dedicate this award to me. The ceremony took place at a gala in Graz, Austria’s second largest city, which is 200 km (160 miles) away. I took this opportunity to try out my first overnight stay in a hotel. It took a lot of preparations, but it worked out at last.
"On May 15 Marco, a male nurse, and I boarded a train to Graz. We were assisted by two train stewards, who stopped the train, unfolded a lift for me, and hoisted me into the compartment for wheelchairs. That was the 1st class, so Marco and I travelled comfortably. Sophie had arranged that beforehand. And ÖBB [=Austrian Federal Railways] volunteers that service! Upon arrival a taxi took Marco, Sophie, and me to a hotel that was equipped with height-adjustable beds. Sophie had fetched us at the station, as she lives in Graz. But she slept with me in the hotel, and turned me several times during the night. Marco slept in the room next door, and took care of nutrition, medication, bodily hygiene, and of course, dressing.
"I rested in bed during the afternoon to be fresh for the gala.
"The gala was splendid! It was held in an old industrial building (soap factory), which was decorated with candles and standing tables. First, there was a champagne reception in the entrance. That was well-lit: for appreciating the red carpet, and for seeing the others' wardrobes. And most of the 300 invited guests were in long evening gowns and white or black tie. Some were in traditional dress, like Sophie, who came in an evening “Dirndl", and her husband Dietmar, who came in a Styrian suit. Marco whispered to me that he was happy that I had talked him into buying a new suit! He looked fabulous in a black three-pieces suit and purple shirt and tie! But then, it is easy to look good at 30!
"I was wearing a long, slim sleeveless gown. Its neckline, which revealed the shoulders, was decorated by feathers. All in black, of course. And "crowned" by a black fascinator (small hat, worn at an angle ) with lace and feathers. Sophie and my mom, who also joined, had objected to me wearing this. But I wanted to make a statement for people under the radar: women over 50, men over 80, and disabled people are mostly invisible, even when they look nice. But nobody would consider them beautiful, or remarkable! And I wanted to change that, now belonging to two of those categories.
"When the door opened the guests flocked to round tables for a seated dinner. My family and Marco were placed with a nominee in the category "the helper" and one of the organizers. The tables were decorated with huge silver candelabras embedded in a sea of flowers. They then alternated some categories (4 nominees each) with a food course. I liked it very much: a soup of cream and herbs as starter. As a vegetarian main course there was an asparagus risotto. I couldn't swallow that unfortunately, although they pureed it for me twice. I tasted it, and knew that it was excellent. But it was better not to cough because my category came after the main course!
"When I was announced, everyone rose to their feet! I had never experienced a standing ovation of 300 people in my honor, so i burst into tears! But who wouldn't? First, they read a laudation about me. Then Sophie, Dietmar and Marco pushed me up a very steep ramp onto the stage (we were afraid of failing), but we made it! Then they showed a video about me on 2 screens next to the stage. They had shot it beforehand in Vienna, and I knew it already. Then they gave me a trophy of glass and steel, and asked me 3 questions. I had already answered them by email, and Sophie read them aloud instead of me.
"Safely down again it was like the fairy tale of Cinderella: It was 10pm, and the prearranged taxi stood ready by the entrance. So we all rushed to the door. While a photo was taken of me with the woman who gave me the prize, Sophie tried in vain to negotiate another ride. We missed desert and the after-party, but it was nevertheless a splendid outing!
"The PR thing that I have started, is out of control! It is nice to find recognition - Sophie said, when I received the award: "you never got such recognition by hard and honest work, did you? “. And she is right.
"But I am meeting too many people, and I want to finish my previous work [on my Japanese Design History lectures] as long as I still remember. I hardly find time to answer my emails!""
Katarina's can say what she wishes.
Online communication is faster for her. From a screen display of the alphabet Katarina uses her left eye to select the letter she wants. A special camera connected to her computer tracks her eye movement so that the computer knows which letter she is looking at. If she pauses her eye on a letter for a moment the computer knows she has selected it and writes it out. Then quickly she is on to the next letter. This wonderful system now allows Katarina to communicate with her friends world-wide through email - in German, English and French! She even has a project going to write up her lectures on Japanese design history. Plus she is writing a little memoir of her experiences. Obviously her memory and intelligence are quite intact.
Having learned of Katarina's courage in the face of such adversity, an Austrian media company interviewed her and her family and created a most interesting video of her. I think you will all want to look at this presentation and see for yourself how she is doing . It is available online at least through Friday Jan 25. Here is the link to the video:
The section covering Katarina starts about 18.5 minutes into this video. It is in German, but if you don't speak German you can still understand the way her life is now by watching. Family members such as her sisters Elisabeth and Sophie take part.
Thank you so much for your support through all of this. You have helped substantially, as you will see from the video. Katarina is very grateful. My best wishes to you.
Jan 23, 2019
Hello Katarina! From my family to you and yours- we are rooting for you each and every day! Keep up the great work. I so look forward to seeing that beautiful smile of yours and being totally inspired by you and your love of all things design. You have been such an inspiration to me and to so many, many others. And you continue to inspire now. I have reached out to the former Model Citizens friends and designers we all hope to hep in anyway we can. Here for you thru to your full recovery! Lots of love and appreciation. Xo Mika
Katarina, I just watched your interview about Bakelite and am reminded of your many contributions to design and its history, to students, to colleagues, and as a mentor. I'm glad to hear that design and computer technology are supporting you to communicate and become more mobile again. Sending love from NYC.
Katarina is featured in our film, All Things Bakelite: The Age of Plastic. A 17-minute video of Katarina was recently created from the outtakes of her interview for the film. The video gives a look at the design and product developments inspired by Bakelite. The video will be highlighted in our website and in our next Newsletter. We are especially grateful to Katarina for participating in the video's creation. We thank John Decker and Pratt Institute for their input and financial support. Katarina's longtime friend and colleague, Guenther Grall, professor of the history of design at the University of Salzburg, Austria has requested copies of the DVD. If you would like to purchase a DVD, please email us.
Ganz liebe Grüße!!! :-) Julia
I think of you so often Katarina, it seems so hard not to! I miss not seeing you here at Pratt but I think we will meet again soon. Thank you for being one of the best teachers and mentors in my life. Here is hoping you have a wonderful recovery ahead.
So moving, Katarina is making amazing progress. I think of her often and pray for her with my small prayer group at St. John's Lutheran Church in Bloomington, IL. Joe, I'll send another check after pay day. Let's get that van.
Hi Katarina & Sophie... Glad to see K is doing so well. i saw the wheelchair video ! You are climbing the mountain, steady as you go... We have had another showing of ATB to a packed audience in Redding, Connecticut. Many folks commented on your terriffic section of the film. Big showing in NYC tonite... We will keep you posted... Hang in there from John and the Entire ATB Crew !
Hi Katarina. Joe & I have been thinking of you. We hold you in our thoughts and send you healing vibes. We miss your smiling face. Sending you love and ether hugs. xo xo xo Sarah & Joe